All too often, the “no pain no gain” mentality of going hard at the gym can get in the way of real progress in a guy’s training regimen. The fact is, if used all the time, this philosophy can lead to injuries, and at best, eventually results in a sort of plateau effect once you reach a certain point. You’ll need to change things up to continue progressing, but there’s no need to accept the fitness level you’re at or risk setbacks from a workout-related injury. Trainer Brian Nguyen has five exercises that work to strengthen all parts of the body with little to no risk of getting hurt, while limbering you up for whatever exercises you may also want to do in any given workout.
Nguyen trains Mark Wahlberg and has worked with several other celebrities and star athletes, such as Will Ferrell and Kobe Bryant. He is also the co-founder of Brik Fitness, which plans workout programs for a number of stars, Olympic athletes and collegiate teams.
Nguyen reports picking these specific exercises because “they are correct in nature,” meaning they are all movements that are tough to do incorrectly. Whether you’re a gym rat or someone who hasn’t worked out seriously in years, these are exercises that are beneficial and utilize natural movements. Just be sure to vary the intensity based on your fitness level and these should help you get closer to whatever performance goals you might have. And always remember, quality over quantity – one of Nguyen’s training mottos.
A classic fitness staple, jumping rope is a great exercise to get the body moving and get the heart pumping, especially because “it’s very difficult to do wrong,” according to Nguyen. The cardiovascular benefits you’ll receive along with the calories you’ll quickly burn make this exercise a better warm-up than simply taking a jog since it gets you on your toes and ready for some more intense work.
In general, lunges are a great exercise due to the strain they put on the thighs, buttocks and calves. Whether you do them stepping forwards or backwards, you’ll tap into those muscles, but Nguyen favors the reverse lunge because it puts less strain on the knees. Forward lunges require you to shift body weight onto the front leg, making a knee strain possible, while reverse lunges maintain the weight on the stationery leg. Altering your utilization of this exercise based on your fitness level, this is a safe and effective one to incorporate into your routine.
“A lot of the time, when someone does a body weight squat, their weight falls forward, putting pressure on the knees,” Nguyen says. You can avoid this potential form problem by incorporating a band or cable into your squat routine. By pulling the band taut between your hands before going into a squat, it helps to ensure that you’ll squat down correctly, according to Nguyen.
This is an effective functional movement exercise – everyone needs to pick things up and move them elsewhere at some point. Nguyen says the farmer’s walk, the exercise where you carry two weighted objects (with handles) from one place to another, is one that will make sure you carry those things the right way, working on your posture and forcing several muscle groups to work together (back, arms, legs, lower core). To start, shoot to walk while carrying at least half your body weight. This is a great exercise to strengthen and loosen up a number of different muscles. Nguyen says this is one that will really engage your whole body and get it ready for other exercises better than most warm-up activities:
“You shouldn’t just go straight from [stationery] biking to squats,” he says. “Your legs might be warmed up, but your back isn’t, not to mention that your hip flexors are only going to be tighter than they already are.”
Like many others, you may have left this one behind after elementary school gym class. However, Nguyen implores you to give it another shot. “Everyone moves north-south very well, but there’s no movement in the east-west region.” The side-to-side movement from jumping jacks engages the oblique and inner thigh muscles, and they’re also great for improving posture (Nguyen says this is another exercise that naturally forces this) and correcting form.